Idea Learning Group

Finding Inspiration in Museum Learning and Design

The year is 1867, south of Paris, France. You’re on a train for the very first time, perched on the edge of your wooden seat. As the locomotive revs and gains power, you’re moving faster than you can run. Then faster than your horse can carry you. Then faster than you ever imagined was possible. It’s an absolute thrill as you absorb the luscious scenery of the French countryside with all your senses. The landscape becomes a magnificent blur of color, texture, momentum, and flickering light.

Museum-LearningThis is how I learned about the era of impressionist painting, in a hands-on, imaginative museum called Château D’Auvers in Auvers Sur Oise, France—the town where Vincent Van Gogh lived his final days. Visitors are seated on a train inside the museum, as a film of the French countryside moves progressively more quickly from left to right on the wall, simulating new travelers’ experience during the early journey-by-rail days. It was a simple design that made a lasting…impression. Sitting on that train watching the scenery whiz by really helped me understand how impressionism reflected a new and fresh interpretation of the world resulting from the quickly evolving modes of transportation during that era.

Educational philosopher John Dewey discussed the need for people to learn by reflecting on their past experiences and thinking critically about new experiences in a personalized way. In his article “John Dewey and Adult Learning in Museums,” author David F. Monk discusses the opportunities that exist for better connection between adult education and museum-style learning.

I’m often been inspired by thoughtful, elegant designs found in innovative museums like Château D’Auvers. Along with my colleagues I’m always searching for ways to bring that discovery-style experience to adult classroom and online learning–moving away from “pouring in” and more toward exploratory learning, as Dewey advised.

Here are some ways we incorporate museum-style learning in our designs:

  • Designing a user interface in an elearning course as a room to be explored, with varying levels of interactivity
  • Using online tools like Moxtra that allow learners to collect and organize discoveries they make while exploring a topic
  • Using a wide variety of scenarios to invite learners to draw upon experiences they can easily relate to
  • Creating a “road map” learners can use to navigate their way through the exploratory options available in various learning stations around a classroom
  • Designing an expert or “docent” character who can provide additional information about topics on demand
  • Eliminating rigid paths for learning; instead, incorporating multiple ways to explore topics

If you have any insights about museum-style learning that you’ve used as a designer or experienced as a learner, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Failure as Part of the Learning Process

“Learn from the mistakes of others.
You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

When I was a 10th-grade student in driver’s ed class, our teacher took us out for drives as a way to test us. I was second in line behind a car at a stop sign for a three-way intersection in the wide-open battlefields of my historic hometown. Nothing obstructed my view. So when the car in front of me stopped at the stop sign and looked both ways, I did the same thing at the same time. When the first car proceeded through the intersection, I did too—without stopping to look a second time. My teacher, seated next to me, said flatly, “Well, you just failed.” He told me I should be thankful he was there because in the “real world” I would have been killed in a car wreck.

I had failed right away, so the drive was over. There was no opportunity to recover from my mistake. Instead of completing the course we headed back to the school. And although I did learn something from the experience—you have to stop even if you can see there are no cars coming in the other direction—I was annoyed that I wasn’t allowed to continue practicing or to try again.

Rebranding “Failure” as “Data”

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
 Thomas Edison

In her blog post “Making Friends With Failure,” author Ainissa Ramirez suggests that if something is learned from an experience, it’s not actually failure—it’s data. Reflecting upon the insights you gain from failure will improve subsequent experiences. Imagine if schools adopted this philosophy. Maybe some students wouldn’t fear failure so much that they’re afraid to ask questions for fear of appearing “stupid.”

Designing Learning Experiences that Reframe Failure

As a designer of learning experiences, I think a lot about how failure affects people. The fear of failure can paralyze learners—especially adults—in their tracks. While one person who fails might feel inspired to try again with more conviction than before, another person might respond by crumpling into a heap of helplessness and self-doubt. Reactions vary wildly.

Here are some strategies we use when designing courses to help people learn (even when they don’t master the content):

  • Avoid the words “test” or “assessment.” These terms can trigger performance anxiety.
  • In writing feedback for elearning activities, avoid punitive responses. Provide the chance to try again, and give the learner some additional context and the ability to discover the information before answering.
  • In a classroom setting, allow people to admit failure and find their own path forward. Brave participants will talk about it. Encourage this—finding a new direction comes from reflection.
  • Include examples of situations in which people don’t succeed the first time yet recover from failure.
  • Build in ways for learners to draw their own conclusions and use the material in way that makes the most sense for them.
  • Create activities that learners can do on the job after finishing the course—that’s where the real behavior-change emerges, after all.

Our team recently worked on a project focusing on the topic of resilience. During this project, it became obvious the role that reflection plays in how people perceive failure. We don’t all bounce back instantly. It’s not always easy to steer yourself in a positive direction after experiencing failure, especially if that failure was unexpected. Taking the time to reflect, articulate what happened, and identify what’s in our control to change can result in much more favorable outcomes in the future.

Playing Games at Work

Playing_Games_At_Work_090313How many new experiences have you had in the past five years that involve playing games in the workplace? When you think of games, what comes to mind? If you’re like many adults, you might think of games as child’s play. You know, Chutes & Ladders. Monopoly. Hide & Seek. Some adults think games are a waste of time. But recent studies (check here and here for some examples) reveal that playing games at work can engage employees and result in deeper learning and behavior change.

The term “serious gaming” has been around for a while. As the name implies, there’s nothing vapid about this type of gaming. In his article “Serious Games for Serious Topics,” Clark Quinn describe that a serious game “can introduce tension and crises to simulate the realistic experience of practicing a particular skill, or depict consequences, more easily than other types of learning.” It’s not a lesson wrapped in entertainment. The “serious game” turns learning objectives into essential decision points. The learner is cast as a potential hero. It involves an other-world context, consequences, and often exploratory path options. The outcome is something that the learner sincerely cares about.

In his book Game Frame, author Aaron Dignan considers the allure of games. “Unlike so many other settings where seemingly meaningless and repetitive tasks frustrate us, in games we are at one with our story….We come to desire the victory that the story presupposes, and we simply must find a way to win.”

According to the Serious Gaming Association, corporate games “demonstrate to the player how the wrong decision causes failure of task but motivates the player to try again, provides important learning, and encourages critical thinking.”

In the coming weeks, we have a few events scheduled that focus on learning through game-play. Our monthly Collaborative Learning Network session on September 11 will be on “Using Games in Workplace Learning.” It’s free, so if you’re in the Portland area you can RSVP here. And on October 24, we’re facilitating a session called “Play to Learn: Cafeteria Learning Model” at the annual North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) conference in Sarasota, Florida.

Unlearning What We Think We Already Know About Learning

We’re on a mission to improve the way people learn at work! Traditional training is designed with a distinct start, distinct end, and is delivered over a fixed number of hours. However, learning doesn’t actually work that way.

Our approach is to create conditions for learning to take place over time, allowing learners to internalize and develop new ways to integrate what they’ve learned into their work. Some examples include:

  • Deep inquiry into business culture to effectively align with training material
  • Road maps that outline training strategies into multiple phases
  • Realistic situations that build context and encourage learners to relate to the material and draw new connections
  • Multiple ways to obtain information, such as through eLearning, job aids, and live classes
  • Self-directed learning opportunities to explore and experiment with content

Learning is an experience, not an event—often with multiple starts and stops. By confining content and instruction to a fixed time and space, limits are imposed on the entire learning process. The neuroscience of learning shows that learners need repeated exposure to concepts to process, absorb, and understand information.

Until recently, the common assumption was that our brains, like the rest of our bodies, stopped developing when we became adults. We believed that neural cell generation—or neurogenesis—was not possible after childhood. We now know that neurogenesis can take place, although to a lesser extent, throughout adulthood.

The study of neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change as a result of new situations and experiences, is revealing fascinating findings that can be applied to the learning environment. Not surprisingly, these findings suggest that our brains are wired to learn through experience to adapt to our environments.

For the latest articles and insights into brain science and learning, be sure to tune into Jillian’s collection on ScoopIt.

NEW BUSINESS Contact us with business inquiries or to discuss your project needs and vision.
CAREERS We always enjoy connecting with talented professionals in the learning and development field.
CONNECT 503.208.3256
LOCATION 2701 NW Vaughn St #103
Portland, OR 97210

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